Free agency grades for Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Steelers
With the initial fury of NFL free agency beginning to quiet down, the PFF staff is taking a look at how each team fared through the first few weeks. Signings, re-signings, players lost to other franchises, and the dollar amounts for each of these transactions are taken into account when assigning a grade (“A” through “F”).
PFF will be rolling out grades for every team by division throughout this entire week, with a look at the AFC North and NFC North today.
Key additions: S Eric Weddle, TE Ben Watson, WR Mike Wallace
Key losses: OT Kelechi Osemele, LB Daryl Smith, DT Chris Canty, S Will Hill, QB Matt Schaub
Key retentions: CB Shareece Wright, LB Albert McClellan, K Justin Tucker
The Ravens did little to improve their roster coming off a disappointing season. Kelechi Osemele’s market was too strong, but his departure seemed inevitable after Marshal Yanda was re-signed mid-season. Even considering the age difference, Baltimore can’t be faulted for retaining PFF’s No. 1 overall guard at nearly $5 million less per year. Losing Osemele is a blow, especially considering that he offers the versatility to play tackle if necessary, but the Ravens’ reluctance to give two guards top money is understandable.
Daryl Smith had been an excellent player for the Ravens, but took a major step backward in 2015 (46.9 overall grade), while Will Hill’s off-field issues are well-documented. Eric Weddle provides a ready-made replacement. He’s been one of our highest-graded safeties over the years, recording cumulative grades of at least +5.5 in each of his eight seasons. The next-best transaction was retaining Justin Tucker, who remains one of the top kickers in the league. The Ravens could have looked at upgrading on Shareece Wright, who gave up a 116.5 passer rating in 2015, but he still graded positively. We don’t expect Ben Watson or Mike Wallace to make much of an impact, but the latter, in particular, offers some upside as a deep-threat.
Key additions: TE Ladarius Green, OT Ryan Harris
Key losses: OT Kelvin Beachum, NT Steve McClendon, TE Heath Miller (retired), CB Antwon Blake
Key retentions: G Ramon Foster, CB William Gay, S Robert Golden, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
The Steelers upgraded the tight end position, but downgraded at left tackle. Heath Miller’s retirement opened the door to bringing in Ladarius Green, who should provide an upgrade at tight end immediately. Green finished as our 26th overall tight end in 2015, despite finding his targets limited behind Antonio Gates, while Miller finished way down at 43rd. Considering he only cost $5 million per year with $5 million guaranteed, Green was one of the best-value signings of this free agency period. In contrast, the decision to allow Beachum to sign with Jacksonville while bringing in Ryan Harris as a replacement drags the Steelers’ grade down. Harris remains one of the poorer left tackles (60th-of-76), while Beachum (79.4) was playing well prior to tearing his ACL. The injury complicated the decision on their incumbent left tackle, but Pittsburgh could have added a better alternative to Alejandro Villanueva than journeyman Harris.
The Steelers also made wise decisions by retaining Ramon Foster (82.3) and William Gay (74.5), while allowing Antwon Blake (35.1) to move on. Foster is one of the better interior offensive lineman in the league, and Gay remains Pittsburgh’s top cover-corner. Only the loss of NT Steve McLendon is somewhat significant, but two-down run-stuffing nose tackles can be found with relative ease. Obviously losing Bryant to a season-long suspension is a blow, but DHB has improved to a level of competency, and Sammie Coates may have developed sufficiently to contribute in 2016.
Key additions: QB Robert Griffin III, S Rahim Moore, LB Demario Davis, OT Alvin Bailey
Key losses: WR Travis Benjamin, RT Mitchell Schwartz, C Alex Mack, CB/S Tashaun Gipson, DT Randy Starks, LB Karlos Dansby, WR Dwayne Bowe
The Browns lost four starters to free agency and have so far failed to replace any of them. The grade feels harsh, because Cleveland needed to overhaul the roster under a new regime, but losing six key contributors without adding any players of note is unlikely to see them receiving an offseason award any time soon. The Browns lost two quality starters on the offensive line in Mitchell Schwartz (86.6) and Alex Mack (75.5), along with their most productive receiver, Travis Benjamin (69.8). Cleveland also admitted their mistake by releasing Dwayne Bowe, as well as the underperforming Karlos Dansby (72.0) and Randy Starks (55.9). Dansby, Starks, and Bowe provide a recent reminder of the pitfalls of handing out big contracts in free agency, but the Browns could have found better players on the cheap than Moore (68.1), Davis (43.5) and Bailey (35.4). Davis recorded a career-low grade last season, Bailey ranked 116th out of 142 offensive tackles (despite playing only 274 snaps), and Moore is coming off a season in which he was benched. Not a great start for the Browns’ new regime.
Key additions: S Taylor Mays
Key losses: WR Mohamed Sanu, WR Marvin Jones, LB Emmanuel Lemur, RT Andre Smith,
Key retentions: CB Adam Jones, S George Iloka, DT Pat Sims, LB Vincent Rey, WR Brandon Tate
The Bengals have done a decent job of keeping their secondary intact, despite all four of their starters hitting free agency. Jones and Iloka were retained on reasonable contracts, while Nelson and Hall could still end up back in Cincinnati (both remain free agents). Taylor Mays, a player the Bengals know well, was signed to provide depth. LB Vincent Rey struggled in 2015 (43.8), but could improve in his third year as a starter.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bengals have a number of key losses to contend with. Andre Smith is inconsistent, but certainly has talent. Thankfully, Cincinnati mitigated for his loss in the 2015 offseason, when they double-dipped at tackle in round one (Cedric Ogbuehi) and two (Jake Fisher). Unlike at tackle, the Bengals lack the personnel to replace departed wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Brandon Tate took the fourth-most snaps amongst Cincinnati’s wide receivers, with a grand total of nine last season. He’s never caught more than 24 passes in a season, and that was back in 2010. The Bengals are certainly on the lookout for a complement to A.J. Green this offseason.